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Qualifying surviving spouse: What’s the tax filing status after the death of your spouse?

4 min read

4 min read

Losing your spouse can be a distressing experience. And having to work through how your loss impacts you at tax time is no welcome task. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has provisions in place to help with the change to your tax filing status and filing requirements.

Why the filing status after death of a spouse matters

What is my filing status if my spouse dies

Why is your filing status important? The status you use determines your income tax rate and standard deduction. If you’re a recent widow or widower, you should file your taxes using the filing status that offers the most tax benefits and provides the lowest tax bill.

Your options for your tax filing status, if your spouse dies, will change depending on how long ago they passed away. For example, you can generally use Married Filing Jointly within the year your spouse passes. Then in the next two years, you can file your tax return as a Qualifying Surviving Spouse if you meet certain requirements.

Filing status options after the death of a spouse

Let’s review the various filing statuses you may use for your tax return if your spouse dies and your eligibility to use them.

Married Filing Jointly

You can still use Married Filing Jointly with your deceased spouse for the year of death — unless you remarry during that tax year.

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If you remarry in the year of your spouse’s death, you can’t file a joint return with your deceased spouse. However, you can use Married Filing Jointly with your new spouse. You and your new spouse can also each use Married Filing Separately. If a final 1040 return is also required for your deceased spouse, use the Married Filing Separately status. Learn more about different filing requirements for a deceased taxpayer and Form 1041 (often used for those filing taxes for the deceased).

Due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act rules expiring, for tax years after 2025, a surviving spouse with no gross income can be claimed as an exemption on your deceased spouse’s separate return or your new spouse’s separate return. However, if you file jointly with your new spouse, you can claim a tax exemption only on that joint return. If the deceased spouse was a dependent on someone else’s tax return, then the surviving spouse can’t claim the exemption on a joint return.

Qualifying Surviving Spouse filing status (formerly Qualifying Widower filing status)

The Qualifying Surviving Spouse status (formerly known as the Qualifying Widow or Qualifying Widower tax status), can be claimed for the two tax years after the death of your spouse. However, you can’t use it for the year your spouse passed away.

To qualify for the Qualifying Surviving Spouse filing status, you must meet these four requirements:

  • You qualified for Married Filing Jointly with your spouse for the year they died. (It doesn’t matter if you actually filed as Married Filing Jointly.)
  • You didn’t remarry.
  • You have a child, stepchild, or adopted child you claim as your tax dependent. This doesn’t apply to a foster child.
  • You paid more than half the cost of maintaining your home. This must be the main home of your dependent child for the entire year, except for temporary absences.

Qualifying Surviving Spouse status entitles you to use both of these:

  • Married Filing Jointly tax rates — However, you’re not entitled to file a joint return after the year of death.
  • The same standard deduction amount as Married Filing Jointly — Only use this if you don’t itemize deductions.

Note: The Qualifying Surviving Spouse standard deduction is the same as Married Filing Jointly. Although there are no additional tax breaks for widows, using this filing status means your standard deduction will be double the Single filer status amount.

Filing as Single

Unless you qualify for another tax filing status, you’ll usually file as Single in the year after your spouse dies. You might not qualify as a Surviving Spouse if your child is a foster child. In that case, you should use Head of Household status.

Get help with determining your filing status if your spouse dies

When a spouse passes, you have a lot to worry about – let taxes should not be one of them. If you need help understanding your filing requirements and status options, one of our knowledgeable tax pros can help. Whether you choose to file with a tax pro. Or you can file with H&R Block Online if you’re wanting to file yourself. Either filing method, you can rest assured that we’ll get you the most tax benefits possible.

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